Starting From Scratch
Breaking Through The Wall: The Sledgehammer and The Digging Bar
After two full years of struggling, I am finally beginning to see a little bit of light. The struggle is not over by far, but the little crack of light shining through is enough hope to lift my spirits. I’m going to get through this brick wall that has been holding me back from my dreams of success.
Living in the middle of nowhere I was a short drive from town.
I had this really interesting job many years ago where I was a maintenance man at James Lick Observatory, which was situated at an elevation of 4200’ feet on a mountaintop only 45 minutes from San Jose, a huge bay area city in California. The observatory is barely visible from the city but if you know where to look there is a tiny little white dome up along the ridgeline of the distant mountains. One of the most fantastic things about living at the Observatory was that you were in the middle of nowhere despite how close it is to such a sprawling metropolis.
I began working there at a particularly difficult time in my life when my parents were having major issues. It was so nice to be away from all the drama. I could just concentrate on some honest hard work to do to keep my mind off my mom’s alcoholism and my dad’s mental problems. The structures at the observatory were more than one hundred years old, so there was plenty of hard work to keep me occupied.
What made work really fun at the observatory was the variety of different jobs. Sometimes things would be a bit slow and monotonous, but then I’d get called into action to go help repair a leaky pipe down at the water tanks or sent up to some weird building I’d never been in before to track down some random piece of equipment.
I woke up this morning remembering one job, which really stands out. I now realize that it is a perfect metaphor for the struggle I have been going through over the last couple years.
Bricks and more bricks
In 1939 a two-seater military attack plane had crashed into the main building at the observatory due to heavy fog. Years later there was a huge fire in that same building. Somewhere during the process when the building was rebuilt, they reinforced some of the walls with many rows of bricks. I got to know those bricks really well, up close and personal.
The director of the observatory came up with this idea to put a projector up in one room that would shine down through a little window into the larger presentation room to show slides and presentations. The only problem was that there was a thick layer of wall between the two rooms. That was where I came in.
The maintenance director sent me up to the little dark room with a hammer drill and a sledgehammer. He explained that we basically needed a hole starting from this room about three feet wide going through into the next room. After the hole was done we would make a little window and install the projector. Little did we know what laid between the two rooms; a reinforcement wall made of many, many layers of bricks. I use the word many two times because I don’t remember exactly how many layers of bricks it went deep. Let’s just say I was up in that room chipping away at that hole for more than a week. Getting started was the hardest part. I would drill about 10 holes in a semi-circle with the hammer drill and then pound away with the sledgehammer or a cold chisel. The result would be a tiny dent. I remember trying various tools and techniques, but really only the sledgehammer and persistence seemed to prevail. This process felt quite futile for the first couple days. I kept at it and started to make it through a layer of bricks. I would feel excited each layer deeper I busted through, only to find another layer of bricks each time. My hands often went numb from the vibration of the hammer drill and the impact of the sledgehammer. Sometimes one of the other maintenance men from the mountain would come up and spend some time chipping away with me for part of a day, I think partly out of pity.
Eventually, we did smash through the other side.
To tell the truth, I remember starting to get quite a bit of enjoyment out of the job at the point when bigger pieces started breaking loose and each day would show more progress. I made it to the other side, installed the window and the projector, and the director was pleased. I recently had a little break-though in my life that felt so much like the experience in the little dark room with the sledgehammer.
When I quit my full-time job eight months ago, I really did not have a direct plan for what I was going to do for a career. I just knew that I needed to find a way to work for myself and have more freedom to make my own decisions. I needed to feel like my work and my time were valuable and worthwhile. I have spent the last months trying various ways to make money such as odd maintenance jobs, some construction work, and my little Amazon business. Each of these has had varying success, and I’ve managed to pay my bills and get through so far. Trouble is, there has been depression, anxiety, and fear. Its really hard not knowing where the next paycheck will come from. Meanwhile, my wife is beating herself up working long night shifts to cover the biggest bills.
There is a way and I have the will.
I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to figure out a new and more efficient way to make money that doesn’t require so much time and labor and wont get me locked in prison. In the effort of improving my website I had been spending more time writing. In the process, I realized that creative writing is a talent that can be leveraged for money. As I explored the options to do freelancing work online, I found that this is actually not as hard as I would have imagined. I had my first interview with a client interested to hire me to write articles. I finally saw some light finally coming through my hole in the brick wall. Soon after, my first professional article was posted on a website.
The big lesson in all this is that life will present problems and obstacles. Sometimes the obstacles will seem insurmountable like the many-layered brick walls of bricks at the observatory.
Often we do not have the best tools available to get through the brick walls. When I started my little Amazon business I only had a couple thousand dollars to start, which really limited how quickly I could build and scale the business. When I work on construction jobs I am trading all my time and most of my energy for a wage that barely covers the bills. I have lots of great ideas for more businesses and products, but no capital to invest. Banks aren’t going to want to give a loan to someone with no business experience and no collateral. There are so many obstacles to success it can be as daunting as the brink wall with the little dent in it.
Just keep chipping away.
I keep hearing the same advice from multiple angles. Don’t give up. Try something else you haven’t tried yet. Do what works. Study what other people are doing, keep trying. We all know this advice but need to keep hearing it over and over throughout life. I may not have reached a place of financial freedom or independence yet, but I have realized my potential and I feel very confident that I am on a path to reaching my goals.
What is your brick wall?
There is something that is holding you back from the success you dream of. You may have a goal or desire that haunts you and seems out of reach. I am not going to tell you to reach out and grab at that dream. I am saying that it is probably going to take a lot of hard work and time. The sooner you start chipping away at it the sooner you will break through that wall. Grab the sledgehammer and get started today.